A Multiple-Choice MUSHROOM: Schools, Colleges Rely More Than Ever on Standardized Tests

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A Multiple-Choice MUSHROOM: Schools, Colleges Rely More than Ever on. Standardized Tests

by B. Denise Hawkins

PRINCETON, NJ -- There's a whole lot of testing going on in America's schools.

It's been "an explosion," says Paul Barton of the boom in testing that has occurred over the past 20 years. "It has almost reached the point where education reform, at least in some circles, has come to mean more testing," says Barton who is director of the Policy Information Center at the Educational Testing Service (ETS) here and co-author of the recent study, "Testing in America's Schools."

The multiple-choice exam is still America's standardized test of choice, but the use of alternative methods of assessment is growing, according to the report, which profiles tests taken by students in the nation's public schools in 1992-93. The report also looks at state testing programs and classroom testing done by school districts, schools and individual teachers.

At least 14.5 million students were tested in 1992-93, representing at least 36 percent of all K-12 students, with standardized testing concentrated in fourth and eighth grades.

Since its founding in 1947, ETS, the world's largest, private, nonprofit testing and educational research organization, has been responsible for administering the bulk of those standardized tests, including the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT).

The American College Test (ACT), the nation's other college entrance exam, has been offered to students since 1959, by American College Testing in Iowa City, IA. Use of the ACT and the SAT is virtually split along geographical lines with the former being taken by students mainly in the Midwest, Southeast and Southwest who tend to apply in greater numbers to "state schools and less elite institutions," says ACT spokesman Kelley Hayden.

About 28 states administer the ACT and 22 the SAT. In 1994, nearly 900,000 students took the ACT. Unlike the SAT which tests students on verbal and mathematic skills and reasoning, the ACT is longer and covers more subject areas -- math, English, reading and science reasoning.

"We have created a better test than the SAT, because ours provides a better assessment of the student entering college. Large state schools aren't interested in rejecting students but finding out where students are for placement purposes," says Hayden.

Four Types of Test

In their last years of high school, students come face-to-face with at least four types of ETS exams: the SAT, which tests reasoning skills needed to do college-level work; Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test (PSAT), a scaled-down practice version of the SAT; Achievement exams, which test mastery of specific subjects on a high-school level; and the Advanced Placement (AP) exams, which test mastery of specific subjects on a college level.

The millions of college-bound students who register to take these high-stakes exams each year point to the degree of importance they hold. Each paper-and-pencil SAT exam for example, costs a student $21. Cost for the paper and pencil version of the GRE is $48 while the computerized version of the exam costs test-takers $93.

Of the 9 million tests ETS administers annually, an estimated 1.8 million are the SAT; 1.771 million are the PSAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test; and 701,000 are AP exams. The National Teachers Exam Core Battery and Pre-Professional Skills Tests (443,000), the Graduate Record Exam General Test (410,000), the Test of English as a Foreign Language (808,000) and the Graduate Management Admission Test (258,000) were also among the largest exams offered by ETS in 1993-94.

Block-Buster Numbers

In 1994, African-American students were 11 percent of the pool of voluntary SAT-takers. Nearly 1.1 million students took the college-entrance exam in that year. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders represented 9 percent of the SAT-takers, American Indians, 1 percent and Hispanic/Latino students 4 percent. …